Babbage, Charles


Babbage, Charles

biographical name

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Charles Babbage, detail of an oil painting by Samuel Lawrence, 1845; in the National Portrait …—Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London

(born Dec. 26, 1791, London, Eng.—died Oct. 18, 1871, London) British mathematician and inventor. Educated at Cambridge University, he devoted himself from about 1812 to devising machines capable of calculating mathematical tables. His first small calculator could perform certain computations to eight decimals. In 1823 he obtained government support for the design of a projected machine with a 20-decimal capacity. In the 1830s he developed plans for the so-called Analytical Engine, capable of performing any arithmetical operation on the basis of instructions from punched cards, a memory unit in which to store numbers, sequential control, and most of the other basic elements of the present-day computer. The forerunner of the modern digital computer, the Analytical Engine was never completed. In 1991 British scientists built Difference Engine No. 2 (accurate to 31 digits) to Babbage's specifications. His other contributions included establishing the modern postal system in England, compiling the first reliable actuarial tables, and inventing the locomotive cowcatcher.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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